Lifestyle Medicine and Planetary Health

Dr Georgie Sowman MBBS MRCGP

The recent British Society of Lifestyle Medicine (BSLM) conference in Cardiff was the perfect opportunity to become immersed in the enthusiasm and positivity of the growing field of Lifestyle Medicine. From the excellent speakers and the opportunity to meet like-minded healthcare professionals, to the healthy food and ‘physical activity’ snacks throughout the weekend, it was certainly an inspiring and engaging event. There was so much to take away that I have already applied to my practice as a Doctor, but it was the emerging field of Lifestyle Medicine and Planetary Health that I found particularly inspiring. 


Healthcare and the Environment

I have been a GP for the last 19 years and a Single-use Plastic Campaigner for two. I started the Lifestyle medicine Diploma after realising that I had few skills to deliver the best medical care to patients with lifestyle related chronic diseases. As I worked through the modalities of the ACLM course manual, I began to realise the degree of interlinking that exists between Lifestyle Medicine and Planetary health. 

Planetary Health looks at the interaction and synergism between Human and Environmental Health. Essentially, if we look after our health using lifestyle interventions, we look after the planet. As we look after the planet, we in turn protect human health.

An example of this is the estimated 100 million single use non-recyclable plastics and foil blister packs encasing metformin and gliclazide medications, used to treat Type 2 diabetes, that are thrown away each year in the UK alone [1]. Working towards evidence-based lifestyle interventions [2] rather than medications could reduce the impact of this plastic waste. It would also reduce the carbon footprint and air pollution generated by transporting these medications internationally, nationally, then locally. Reducing carbon emissions and air pollution is of benefit to the environment [3], but also human health. It links to conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and stroke; all of which are in turn treated in conventional medicine by further plastic packaged medications.

Single use non-recyclable plastics packs for medications

Presenting at the BSLM Conference

Having never taken a poster to a Medical Conference before, I had some reservations. But this was a great opportunity to deliver a visual presentation and encourage discussion with other health professionals. For this reason, my poster covered a few different lifestyle ideas including reducing the harm of medications, and reducing intake of animal products and processed foods. Prescribing active commuting, social prescribing, nature and environmental groups are just a few examples of how Lifestyle Medicine already delivers a wealth of benefits to human, planetary, and economic health.

Click here to view the full poster that was presented at the BSLM Conference 2019.

Poster presentation at the BSLM conference June 2019

Future directions

I am now working to increase the uptake of Lifestyle medicine in Medical education, particularly in relation to its planetary benefits. I’m also liaising with a number of agencies, some International, to take these ideas forward. The best news is that, without having to change anything, Lifestyle medicine already delivers so many aspects of sustainable healthcare. What could be more positive than that!

Written by Dr Georgie Sowman. MBBS MRCGP

Edited by Rebekah Jade


References

  1. Sharma ,M., Nazareth et al. Trends in incidence, prevalence and prescribing in Type 2 Diabetes between 2000 and 2013 in primary care: a retrospective cohort study. BMJ open 2016
  2. Kelly , J., Shull, J., The Lifestyle medicine board review 
  3. BMJ 2017 ;357:j2713

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